REVIEW: iBasso DX50 High Performance Digital Audio Player
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Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
by Arly Borges & Frank Iacone
We love our music at Audio360. Over the last two decades the mobile audio market heated up at an exponential rate thanks to companies such as Sony and Apple. Companies like these pioneered the industry. The public can now enjoy their music anywhere at anytime. They are no longer chained to a home hi-fi system. We sent Frank and Arly out to investigate iBasso Audio's new DAP, the DX50. Below are their findings.
I knew Arly was working on the DX50 and asked him to jump in so we could work on this review together. iBasso had sent me a player for review, and I wanted to make sure what I was experiencing with the DX50 was similar to Arlys' experiences with his unit. As it turned out: Arly and I shared many similar experiences with the DX50; many of which were good. More often than not, there were also times of frustration and disappointment.
iBasso is a small company based in China. They manufacture portable amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters. The company is well-known for building quality products. My DX50 was part of their first production run, while Arly purchased a unit from the second batch. There have been four firmware revisions for this player thus far. All current firmware were loaded onto the DX50s for this review.
Before the DX50, iBasso released the DX100 player. The DX100 is their top-of-the-line player that was engineered to drive orthodynamic headphones such as the Audeze LCD-2, LCD-3, as well as dynamic headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800. The DX100 was released with some functionality issues that required firmware updates in order to get the player performing properly.
The DX50 has a touch screen, and utilizes those cards to achieve 128GB capacity. I loaded a 64GB SXDC mini card into the DX50 and the unit immediately recognized the card and started scanning the media. Most of the music stored on the card was in iTunes lossless MPEG4 format. The DX50 recognized some of the albums, but not all. When using the same card on the HiFiMAN HM901 the entire card was recognized. Some of the music on the card was unable to be played by the DX50. The unit could not locate the files. The DX50 sounded excellent when it worked. The problem is that it never worked properly from day one. The DX50 does not recognize most of the artwork on my SXDC card. It had trouble reading the card, and as the result the DX50 froze. The player had to be shut off and rebooted in order to work again. The directory contained some of the album titles but not all of them. The DX50's sound signature (when it worked) was very dynamic and musical. The sound was balanced and neutral with excellent transparency. When it worked properly the player was very enjoyable. The volume control no longer works on my DX50 unfortunately. I cannot turn the volume up. The volume can no longer be played at levels sufficient to play music. With Arly's unit, right out-of-the-box, he also had nothing but problems with the DX50. Arly chose to be an early adopter because he was confident in the component; thinking iBasso learned from past mistakes with the DX100. He assumed that iBasso should be capable of manufacturing a functional player. Instead, iBasso released the DX50 with a bug-ridden operating system, amongst other issues mentioned here.
Arly's problems started with tag reading errors, component freeze ups, and a screen that wouldn't boot up; leaving him to stare at a blank screen when the DX50 was powered on. Trying to update the player via USB connection to a laptop resulted in a hardware malfunction. iBasso had to replace his defective unit. After waiting about a month, Arly received the replacement unit and was hoping that his problems were solved. Instead, the new unit was every bit as flawed as the first one. It arrived with a new updated OS that was supposed to be an improvement. Although the newly installed firmware was a slight improvement, and the USB connectivity defect had been addressed, there were a new slew of bugs that manifested. Out-of-the-box, the unit exhibited sluggish performance. When navigating its OS, and within a span of thirty minutes the player locked up and froze twice forcing him to remove the battery to shut the player off. Not being one to quit, Arly downloaded the most up-to-date firmware from the iBasso website and proceeded to update the player in hopes that the issues would be resolved. The update added more fluidity to the players operating system, but at an unfortunate cost. Post-update the player would no longer auto scan the SDCard. He could only play music by navigating towards the files through the OS, and manually adding the folders, one at a time. Considering the SDCard was 64GB (and full) it was a chore manually locating all the files, and loading them into the player. After trying various SDCards and finding no solution, Arly emailed iBasso to explain the situation. They told him to power off the player, remove the card, power on the player, and then insert the SDCard and the player should auto scan the files. Unfortunately this solution did not work. The files still wouldn't scan properly. The issues were still there, and the firmware and factory resets could not resolve his problems. Arly's thoughts regarding the listening sessions were conclusive: The DX50 is a decent sounding player that is a clear step-up from an iPod and many of the less expensive MP3 players. He also found the sound signature neutral and balanced. The overall presentation was cohesive. The midrange had a nice balance and smooth sound. The treble was extended, with some noticeable roll-off at the top of the audio spectrum. The treble region had some nice sparkle; enough to keep you interested, and is slightly forward in its presention. The midrange detail is acceptable, and not overly lush. Vocals sounded pleasing. Male vocals stood out and sounded quite nice. The bass is full-bodied with good extension and texture. Although the lows were acceptably controlled, Arly would've preferred a little more linearity as well as a little more depth and detail.
In comparison to the HiSound Studio V Third Anniversary Edition, the DX50 lacked precision. The HiSound was much better with instrument separation and sound-staging. There was more air. Instruments stood out in a better defined space. The HiSound was more dynamic with better pace and rhythm to the sound.
Unfortunately this product was released before all the issues were resolved. As it is now, it is unable to compete with the iPod Touch and the other players in the same price range. Plagued with problems ranging from missing files, component freezing, poor directories, nonexistent artwork, and a slew of what appears to be never-ending firmware releases: It's very hard to give this product a recommendation in its current state (broken).
But the DX50 is a product that has great potential, and iBasso just needs to iron out all the kinks in order to make this a prime-time product, a super player.
iBasso is working hard to address these issues. Audio360 is looking forward to the day when iBasso resolves them, and would love to do a follow-up to this review. Until then, our recommendation is on hold, and we recommend looking in other directions for a high end DAP (digital audio player).
* Frank notified iBasso regarding the issues and they declined to send another unit for this review.
* Arly, at the time of this articles writing, has elected to return his unit for a full refund and look elsewhere for his player needs.
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